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Worrying gap between US military, civilians: Mullen

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 21, 2011
The US military's top officer warned Saturday about a worrisome disconnect between civilians and troops, saying soldiers are becoming isolated from the rest of American society.

Speaking to graduating cadets at the US military academy at West Point, Admiral Mike Mullen said that Americans appreciate the military but do not fully understand soldiers' lives or the sacrifices they have made in wartime.

"Our work is appreciated, of that I am certain. There isn't a town or a city I visit where people do not convey to me their great pride in what we do," Mullen said, according to a text of the speech.

"But I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle," he said.

"This is important, because a people uninformed about what they are asking the military to endure is a people inevitably unable to fully grasp the scope of the responsibilities our Constitution levies upon them," he said.

With the all-volunteer military representing less than one percent of the population, Mullen said it was a comparatively "small force" that was not fully representative of the population and dwelled in a largely separate world.

"We are also fairly insular, speaking our own language of sorts, living within our own unique culture, isolating ourselves either out of fear or from perhaps even our own pride," Mullen said.

As a result, Americans could be "forgiven" for not "possessing an intimate knowledge of our needs or of our deeds," said Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff

Even with the military preoccupied with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers had a duty to reach out to the rest of society, he told the cadets, who will enter the US Army as officers.

"We must help them understand -- our fellow citizens -- who so desperately want to help us."

Both Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have voiced concern about the all-volunteer force of more than 1.4 million growing alienated from the rest of society, with large numbers of recruits coming from more rural, conservative areas.

In his address, Mullen said that the cadets graduating from West Point would be expected to win wars not only on the battlefield but "at home," and encouraged them to communicate "often and much with the American people to the degree you can."

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